I was in two minds about writing this blog post. Like most things that I write, I feel passionate about the topic in the title and, whilst I always try to balance my viewpoints, sometimes my passion for a subject takes over and I fear that I will not achieve balance.
To add to that, the events that sparked this blog post are recent and I want to just start off by saying that the Paris attacks today are tragic. I cannot even imagine what the families and friends of the victims are going through and nobody deserves to have their life taken. I saw a lot of good on Twitter today with pictures of solidarity protests in Paris and the hashtag #jesuischarlie. Absolutely amazing and made me realise that for all the bad in the world, there are a lot of good people who come together to say that terrorists won’t win, there will never be an acceptance of terrorist attacks and to remember innocent lives taken.
On the flip side, and please feel free to stop reading at any point, Twitter searches made me angry too. Angry that some were trying to take away the focus from innocent lives being killed in a terrorist attack to focusing on attacking Islam. I appreciate this may be seen as a similar thing in a way about taking the focus away so I understand if people choose not to read it. I am writing it now as I have thought of some things to say and don’t want to forget them in a few days.
As a bit of background, I am married to a Muslim man. Even writing those words feel strange as Islam doesn’t spring to mind when I think of him or introduce him. I may introduce him as my husband, Mohamed or even Libyan but I have never said “Hi, this is Mohamed. He is my Muslim husband”. This is despite the fact that he does strongly identify as a Muslim and is a practicing Muslim. He prays and observes Ramadan. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He believes there is one God called Allah.
I’m a Christian and have been since birth. Although I don’t go to church on a regular basis, I do have my faith and would describe myself as a Christian. My reasons for not going to church are personal and I am planning to attend again in the future. When I married my husband, a few comments were made about whether I was going to convert to Islam. No one ever asked him if he was going to convert to Christianity. I grew up in a predominantly white Christian area of Yorkshire and did not have friends who were Muslim until I came to university. When I met Mohamed, I have to confess my thoughts about Islam were relatively negative. I met him not long after 9/11 and the negative media that ensued meant I was convinced that he would demand that I would convert to Islam and I was extremely cautious about entering into a relationship with him. Obviously I’m glad I did but I’m saying this to be honest and open about my perceptions pre marrying my husband.
My husband has challenged my perceptions about Islam every day since. I’m not Muslim so I can’t pretend to know everything about Islam but I’m 100% certain my husband doesn’t advocate killing people. Muslims value life, it is a gift from God and a crime to take it away. It upsets me when I hear that Islam promotes killing. It doesn’t. There is reference to jihadism but it talks about the end of the world where only Muslims will enter heaven. I am pretty certain as a Christian that we also say that only Christians will go to heaven as well. There is also an accompanying ‘guide’ (there is a proper term for this’ which is meant to be read as an interpretative guide to the Koran.
One of my closest friends said, and there is background to this, why aren’t lovely Muslims standing up and doing documentaries showing what life is really like and their Islamic practices as a lot of people are fearful. I get that. I do. The answer is they do. There have been a number of programmes, including a programme following a British woman converting to Islam, but they don’t get promoted in the media. Sadly, the negative media stories get pushed to the front and the good stories get buried.
The other side to me thought, why should they? Why should Muslims go out and tell everybody they aren’t killers because some terrorists decided to kill people in the name of a religion? When a Christian extremist has gone out and attacked and killed, should I stand up and say all Christian people aren’t like that or do you just take it that I’m not a murderer? Yes, there is work that needs to be done about integration between communities. They are doing it, faith leaders in Birmingham met during the last few years and did a huge amount of work between two gangs. The reality is that if I walked up to someone and killed them whilst yelling “In the name of God” would that mean Christianity was responsible for killing them because I’m a Christian?
I saw a quote from Salman Rushdie who said “Religion,like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire and yes, our fearless disrespect”. I didn’t expect anything less from him. I would rephrase it as “Religion, like all other ideas, deserve challenging whilst respecting discussions to promote integration and well being”. As long as people are afraid of discussing religion in a respectful way, there will always be some element of suspicion. There will always be those who feed on fear and use religion as an excuse to kill people. There will always be fighting and there will always be fear. I speak to my husband all the time about his religion and questions like why do women wear hijabs, are women not respected like men, why men and women are separate during prayers. Like most things, there are good and bad interpretations of everything. I hope that those watching the events in Paris will focus on the real important messages from today. Innocent lives were lost and evil terrorists committed the act and should be caught and punished. Anything else can wait until another day. #jesuischarlie